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Is This Just Fantasy? : The Chosen One

If you read even a moderate amount of fantasy, you are likely familiar with one of its most common tropes: the chosen one, also known as the fated savior or destined heroine.  While there are many different types of fantasy being written and read today, certain patterns repeat frequently and the ‘chosen one’ trope is no exception.  This trope usually involves the inclusion of a character (usually the protagonist) who has in some way been marked as especially gifted or otherwise uniquely equipped to complete a special mission.   Whether they’ve been chosen by a deity, a prophecy, or circumstances of birth, chosen ones in fantasy tales must often complete quests, battle evil forces, and make difficult, pivotal choices in order to achieve their destinies.  This particular trope is far from limited to fantasy literature–it shows up in all kinds of science fiction and fantasy media and the template is often connected to mythologist Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth or hero’s journey.
fantasy series chosen one

 

As a longtime fantasy fan, I find the ‘chosen one’ trope can be a double-edged sword for the genre.  On one hand, any popular pattern becomes stale after a while and stories that depend heavily on the ‘chosen one’ narrative can easily fall into traps of lazy plotting or derivative content.  ‘Chosen one’ stories can include protagonists who are unbelievably talented or inhumanly heroic.  These characters often react in their ‘chosen’ status in predictable ways, usually resisting or attempting to escape or avoid their destinies.  However, this trope has remained prevalent for a reason, especially in fantasy for and about teenage characters.  After all, it’s a narrative that investigates the difficult process of coming to understand one’s role in the larger world and battling with the frightening concept of a future–struggles common to adolescents even without magical prophecies hanging over their heads.
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Booklist: If You Like The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Rose Society, the sequel to Marie Lu’s The Young Elites hit the shelves on October 13th and has spent four weeks on the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller List. In The Rose Society readers revisit Adelina Amouteru, one of the survivors of the blood plague that made her and many others into “young elites” gifted with strange powers. The book opens with Teren Santoro, lead inquisitor set on ridding the kingdom of Adelina’s kind. Fans of the courtly intrigue, fast paced plot, and atmospheric setting in the first book will not be disappointed by the second. If your library’s copy is checked out consider recommending some of these backlist titles to tide over your eager patrons while they wait.

If You Like The Young Elites

 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Fans of the unique and complex world building in The Young Elites will appreciate Bardugo’s “czar punk” setting. Likewise, readers  will see many of Adelina’s strong points in Bardugo’s Alina.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (2003 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is an older one, making it more likely to be on the shelf, and more likely to be one that your patrons have not yet read. Readers who loved the element of spying and espionage in The Young Elites will be hooked by Turner’s plot twists.

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Diversity YA Life: Diverse Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

shadowshaperMuch of diverse young adult literature is contemporary, realistic fiction, or historical fiction about the struggle of being a person of color.  As a teen library worker, I get to know the personal lives of teens and some of their stories are heartbreaking.  From poverty to bullying, I recognize that the struggle is real and I am happy to be a non-judgemental adult soundboard.  I am also grateful for the plethora of young adult fiction available so that I can hand a book to a teen I feel will provide some insight and comfort.

But when life is tough, many teens also like to escape into fantasy and science fiction. Readers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror also like to see themselves in these books.  If people of color can survive slavery and oppression and poverty, they can also survive zombies and maniacal kings and naiyadragons. So, where are the black Hermiones?

I am a teen services specialist and a major part of my job is to connect teens with books.  I have an avid reader, who is Middle Eastern, who asks me to recommend fantasy books about once a month.  A year ago when the We Need Diverse Books movement started, I asked her to do a cue card about why we need diverse books and she stated that she would like to see more Middle Eastern characters in fantasy.   A little over a year later, I gave her The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh and she came back and absolutely raved about the book.  She said that she particularly loved the inside cover because there was a girl who looked and dressed like her.  This is one reason why we need diverse books.

If you are a library worker looking to enhance your diverse young adult repertoire or a teen reader looking for yourself in a magical world or a speculative fiction reader seeking something new, here’s a list of speculative young adult fantasy/science fiction titles for you to try.  Please note that some titles feature characters of color in a supporting role—but that’s okay because Hermione was a supporting character, too.

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Is This Just Fantasy? : Catching Up On Current Series

Just Fantasy catching upAs summer comes to a close, I inevitably look at my increasingly dusty ‘to be read’ piles and worry about the many books I failed to read during my vacation. Simultaneously, I peer towards the flood of shiny new titles set to be released over the next few months and I am overwhelmed.  This feeling only increases when I consider the number of current fantasy series with new installments hitting the shelves soon! It is a constant dilemma–how to catch up on current series while keeping up with the new ones? I admit I have yet discover a true solution but at the very least, I’ve found that it helps to step back and take stock of the current series that might be most timely to revisit.
Here are few series worth adding to any fantasy fan’s ‘catch up’ checklist.
 
of metal and wishesOf Metal and Wishes  – Sarah Fine (2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults)  Wen assists her father in the medical clinic that serves the Gochan One slaughterhouse. While Wen and her family are trapped by their debts to the factory, they remain better off than the Noor, workers brought in as cheap labor.  And now a ghost seems to be haunting the slaughterhouse– a of dreams and rustghost who will do anything to protect and please Wen. As Wen becomes increasingly involved with the Noor and their charismatic young leader, she must face both the volatile ‘ghost’ and the brutal system and decide if she dares to take a stand.
 The sequel, Of Dreams and Rust,  was just released earlier this month.
The Diviners – Libba Bray (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adultsdiviners
It’s 1926 and glamorous New York City is simply the only place to be—at least in small town flapper Evie O’Neill’s mind. So when her parents ship her off to visit her uncle in the Big Apple, Evie is thrilled. However, the trip also means staying in Uncle Will’s highly creepy museum and Evie is hiding her own supernatural secret. lair of dreamsThen, within days of her arrival, a young woman is found murdered and branded with strange occult symbols. Uncle Will is asked to consult on the case and soon Evie is in the middle of murder investigation—and perhaps something even more sinister.
 The long awaited sequel, Lair of Dreams, will be published the end of this month!
The Burning Sky – Sherry Thomas
the burning sky
Iolanthe Seabourne is an elemental mage with an special gift for fire.  Brought up in obscurity with her drug-addicted mentor, Iolanthe has never thought of her abilities as particularly extraordinary.  But when she pulls down a massive lightning strike from the sky in an attempt to mend a failed elixir, Iolanthe suddenly gains the attention of Prince Titus,  the young royal determined to follow through on his mother’s visions, revenge his family, and regain power over Atlantis.  Convinced that Iolanthe is the mage prophesied to battle and defeat the tyrannical ruler Bane, he leaps into action to hide her the immortal heightsin the non-magical world of London as they prepare for their possibly deadly fate.
The second book, The Perilous Sea, is currently available and the third volume, The Immortal Heights, is set to be released in October.
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Is This Just Fantasy?: Celebrating The Hub’s Favorite Women In Fantasy Fiction

Just Fantasy women in fantasyMarch is Women’s History Month. Woohoo! In that spirit, I wanted to dedicate this edition of Is This Just Fantasy? to the fabulous women of fantasy fiction and I asked my fellow Hub bloggers to join in the fun.  Here are some of The Hub’s favorite female characters in young adult fantasy fiction.

alannaAlanna of Trebond from Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce (2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award)

“The heroine who comes immediately to my mind (and no doubt others as well!) is Alanna.  So strong, brave, courageous and while in the first novel she must hide her sex and pretend to be a boy, I really loved how ultimately she embraced being a woman as the series evolved.” – Sarah Debraski

Dealing-with-dragons-first-editionPrincess Cimorene from Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

“After first encountering Cimorene in Dealing with Dragons, I was hooked. She is a princess who is bored with everything that goes with being a princess. She wants nothing to do with the not-very-bright princes she encounters and is so eager for more excitement in her life that she leaves her home to find a dragon to ‘capture’ her – the only acceptable alternative for a princess. Once she finds her dragon, she becomes the dragon’s chef and librarian (a fact I had forgotten until I recently reread this book). With Cimorene, Wrede turns princess stereotypes on their head and creates a funny, compelling, and exciting protagonist.” – Carli Spina 

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Where Are They Now? Morris Award Finalists & Winners

yalsa morris winnerHave you ever wondered what YALSA’s Morris Award winning authors have been up to today since they were recognized for their first novels? Well then, this post is the one for you.

For a little background, YALSA has been giving out the Morris award since 2009, which honors debut young adult authors with impressive new voices. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive list of  what all of the finalists and winners have been up to, but it’ll give you an idea of what some of our Morris winners and finalists have been writing since winning their awards. (Be sure to take a look at the full list of Morris winners and finalists.)

Then: 2009 Awards 

  • 2009 Winner – A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • 2009 Finalist  – Graceling by Kristin Cashore
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What Would They Read?: My Little Pony

MLP FIM (800x450)
from deviantart user bluedragonhans

As you probably know, the television reboot of the My Little Pony franchise (Friendship Is Magic) has managed to find an older audience than the elementary school-aged girls one would have expected. As a regular viewer of the show and frequent YA reader, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what titles the ponies would read in their free time.

One thing I really like about the show is that it has a strong pro-female message. The show presents female characters who routinely solve problems by conducting research, reaching out to friends, and finding strength within themselves. In addition to encountering magical Big Bads, the ponies encounter real world problems such as bullying, low self-esteem, over-committing, and being too proud to ask for help. Because of this theme, I have selected books with female protagonists for all of the characters.

Today, I am focusing on three of the main six ponies: Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity.

Twilight Sparkle
from deviantart user shapeshifter95

Twilight Sparkle

When Friendship Is Magic began, Twilight Sparkle was sent to Ponyville to learn the value of having friends. She was the best student studying under the Princess, but she missing a social component in her education. Twilight lives in a tree-house library, surrounded by books and often encourages research when faced with trouble. However, Twilight is also a unicorn and, therefore, magical. She must find balance between magic, research, and friendship to ultimate solve her problems.

Girl-of-Fire-and-Thorns-USI think that Twilight Sparkle would enjoy The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (2012 Morris Award Finalist, 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults) which is the story of Elisa, a princess and the Chosen One. Married off to a king whose people need her to save them, Elisa lives in a world of magic. She must fight to live long enough to save the people who need her, while avoiding those who hunt her for her power. Twilight has recently become a princess herself and has been forced to save all of Equestria on more than one occasion.

I also think that Twilight Sparkle would enjoy Graceling by Kristin Cashore (2009 Morris Award Finalist, 2009 Teens’ Top Ten, 2012 Popular Paperback for Young Adults) for similar reasons. Royalty, magic, and a strong female fighter would all appeal to Twilight’s love of reading, fantasy, and adventure. 

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Beyond Forever: Female Desire and Empowerment in YA Lit

girl sexualityIf you’re of a certain age, you will remember reading Judy Blume’s Forever… as a teen- perhaps furtively behind closed doors or brazenly in the school cafeteria. It was the kind of book people passed around, giggled about, and devoured in one sitting. No wonder, as it was one of the first books to talk frankly about sex and, even more revolutionary, acknowledge that sex was something a teenage girl could want and have responsibly without it being wrong or feeling guilty about it.

It’s been almost forty years since Forever‘s publication in 1975, and surprisingly little progress has been made in the realm of female sexual agency and sex-positive portrayals of young women. In the last decade alone, Forever was number 16 of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009, Rush Limbaugh gleefully called law student Sandra Fluke a slut for speaking in favor of contraception coverage, and Miley Cyrus won out over chemical warfare in Syria as the top headline in August of last year. What all these examples speak to is our society’s intense preoccupation with young women’s sexuality- a preoccupation that tends towards censure.  Indeed, society continues to judge women on the basis of their sexual choices and considers having sexual agency as a young woman a shameful thing.

Which makes the recent increase in YA books that speak openly and positively about teenage girls and their sexual desire all the more heartening.  Particularly, as they do so in a way that neither diminishes the need to be responsible when it comes to making sexual choices nor avoids discussing the emotional consequences—both good and bad—that come with having sex.

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle (2014 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers) is the natural successor toInfinite moment of us cover Blume’s Forever.  It is the story of two very different high school graduates who find themselves improbably falling in love. Wren is a well-adjusted A-student bent on pleasing her parents. Charlie has difficulty fighting the demons in his past or accepting the love of his foster parents. Myracle expertly captures the uncertainty, ardor, and innocence that accompany that first headlong rush into full-blown, soul-consuming love.  But it is her handling of sexual intimacy that makes this novel stand out. Wren is a virgin at the start of the novel and the ways in which Myracle traces her discovery of desire, her anxiety around having sex, the accompanying vulnerability it elicits, and her subsequent enjoyment of the act itself is both beautiful and remarkably realistic.  The emphasis on communication, trust, and mutual satisfaction makes this novel all the more appealing and important for young teens (male and female alike) to read. 

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Is This Just Fantasy?: Valentine’s Day Special

Just Fantasy Valentines 2014Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and as heart-shaped cookies, chocolates, and balloons fill shop windows, I must acknowledge that the romance is in air–and on the bookshelves.    And it seems only appropriate to celebrate the holiday by exploring some of my favorite love stories: the romances featured in young adult fantasy fiction, of course.

While particular subgenres of speculative fiction such as supernatural romance and even dystopian or futuristic romance have enjoyed a particular upsurge in popularity over the past few years, I must make a case for the delightful variety, rich character-driven stories, and, yes, swoon-inducing moments available in high fantasy fiction.  Whether you like your romance to be a classic case of initial dislike and misunderstanding turned to love or platonic partnership grown into something more, there’s a something for you!  So here are a few of my favorite high fantasy novels and series featuring that unique magic: romance.

gracelingGraceling – Kristin Cashore (2009 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 William C. Morris Award finalist)  Since discovering her Grace (or superhuman ability) for fighting and killing as a child, Katsa has lived as her royal uncle’s unenthusiastic thug.  But with the help of her tentative new ally Prince Po, Katsa sets out on an epic journey to face frightening secrets–about her abilities, her undecided future, and the dark violence spreading through the kingdoms.

 

Kristin Cashore is a fairly recent but incredibly popular addition to many lists of favorite fantasy writers.  Her debut Graceling features not only an action-packed plot and fantastically complex heroine–it also possesses a wonderful romance.  The developing relationship between Katsa and Po highlights their complementary personalities and explores the complexities of romance for a woman who has worked hard to earn her independence. 

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